If you're thinking about applying for an expungement of your criminal record in Pennsylvania, then you should develop a game plan that ensures you expunge all eligible arrests or offenses in an efficient and effective manner. The expungement process can take several months from start to finish, but the benefits of expungement far outweigh the legal legwork that the process requires.
Some may only have one old offense on their record they wish to have expunged, but it's not uncommon to have multiple offense records, which could include arrests, charges, or convictions. It's always wise to seek the legal help of a knowledgeable PA expungement lawyer who can guide you through the process and help you avoid wasting time and money.
What Does Expungement Mean in Pennsylvania?
States vary in how they treat expungements. In Pennsylvania, expunging your record means that the criminal justice agencies that hold those records must destroy them after they receive formal notice evidencing an Order for Expungement approved by a judge. Pursuant to the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania, “Expungement is the only mechanism to permanently and completely remove criminal history record information.”
An expungement is different from a pardon, which “is an executive, not a judicial, function. A pardon relieves legal disabilities resulting from criminal convictions.” Even when you have been pardoned for a crime, you will still need to petition the court to expunge the record of it.
Record sealing, too, is different from expungement. Whereas expungement means your records in PA are destroyed, sealing means that the records are maintained but sealed from public viewing. Record sealing may be an option for those who aren't eligible for expungement.
Even if your record sealing is approved, however, in contrast to an expungement, it is important to understand that one record of your arrest or conviction history will remain intact. This record, however, is only for use by law enforcement agencies and won't show up in the background checks you must pass for housing, education, and most job opportunities.
Should You Apply for Expungement?
Expungement is a tool that allows those who've made mistakes in their past to move on from their earlier errors in judgment. Everyone makes mistakes, and most go on to become contributing members of society even despite having a rap sheet that can make life more difficult. Maybe you're just starting out and working to gain admission into college, a professional school, or you're trying to secure housing in a competitive rental market. Maybe you're a seasoned professional who'd like to open up even better career opportunities.
Whatever your situation is, if you're eligible for expungement, you should petition the courts with the help of an experienced attorney so you can move forward in life free from the ongoing consequences associated with long-past mistakes.
Can You Expunge Multiple Records in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, you can expunge multiple records so long as you meet the eligibility requirements. Pennsylvania does not, for example, limit the number of expungements a person can seek or be granted, as long as the person is eligible to seek an expungement for each applicable case. Although nuanced, eligibility rules dictate how much time must have passed since your last offense as well as what type of offense can be expunged.
To expunge your entire history, you'll need to make sure your Expungement Petition contains an accurate description of each arrest or offense you wish to expunge. It's important to wipe everything out at once so you don't have to go through the process again. Additionally, failure to list every record on your petition may lead the District Attorney's office to second-guess your willingness to be transparent with the court.
Another factor to consider when expunging your record is where the formal notice of the approved Expungement Order needs to be sent. The expungement process is not over when the judge grants your request, but rather when the criminal justice agencies that maintain your records receive official notice that a judge has signed off on the expungement. If you've sought expungement through multiple Courts of Common Pleas in various counties, you'll need to make sure this notice is sent to the applicable agencies so your record can be effectively expunged. Thankfully, the applicable clerk of courts involved in the expungement process will attend to this step in the process on your behalf, with no input required from the petitioner in many instances.
The complicated nature of the expungement process can be made more manageable through the help of an attorney who's experienced in expunging records in the various counties of Pennsylvania. Because each court may have slightly different rules for their respective expungement process, it's always recommended that you work with an attorney if you want to have multiple records expunged in PA.
What is the Pennsylvania Expungement Process?
In recent years, the state of Pennsylvania has worked to make the expungement process more accessible through online information sources. Technically, there are just a few steps in the process, and they include:
- Obtain a complete record of your arrest/criminal history
- File an Expungement Petition with the appropriate court
- Attend an expungement hearing if applicable
- If your petition is approved, send formal notice of the Expungement Order to the criminal justice agencies that hold your records
While the basic steps can be outlined in a few short bullet points, those planning to apply for expungement in Pennsylvania should understand that it can be difficult to go at it without the guidance of an experienced expungement lawyer.
To obtain your complete record, you will most likely need to complete the SP 4-170 Form and mail it to the Central Repository Agency, ensuring you include a certified check and a copy of your government-issued identification. In some cases, you could obtain all of your records through the state's PATCH network, but these records are limited and may not show your entire history. If you already know which individual criminal justice agencies hold your records, you could go request them in person. Your attorney can advise you on the approach that best suits your situation. Thankfully, the "ePatch" Pennsylvania State Police background check, which is generally the quickest manner to obtain the necessary records for an expungement, will be all that is needed in most instances.
If you have multiple eligible offenses spanning across various PA counties, then you'll need to petition the Court of Common Pleas for each jurisdiction. The Expungement Petition is a legal document, and when preparing the instrument for filing with the court, you need to make sure that it's accurate, complete, and fits the requirements for the specific jurisdiction in which it will be filed.
Pennsylvania Expungement Eligibility
The types of offenses a person can be convicted of in the state of Pennsylvania include summary offenses, misdemeanor offenses, and felony offenses. Those who haven't been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony may be eligible to have their record expunged. In cases where a person received a pardon for their misdemeanor or felony conviction, they may then be eligible for expungement of the related arrest and criminal records for the case or cases for which they were granted a pardon.
If you aren't eligible for expungement, don't give up hope, as you may still be able to have your records sealed, which will limit public access to your criminal history.
Arrests without Conviction and Summary Convictions
Arrests that don't result in a conviction are eligible for expungement in Pennsylvania. This may include instances where:
- Your case disposition was not received or recorded within 18 months after your arrest
- You were found not guilty
- Your case was dismissed
- Your case was withdrawn
- Your case was Nolle Prossed
Minor offenses that often result in no more than a citation and fine are known as summary offenses in the state of Pennsylvania. Summary offenses are eligible for expungement in PA so long as five years have elapsed since the case disposition, including payment of fines and court fees, and the time when you file your Expungement Petition. Summary offenses are those that generally could be described more as a public nuisance than a threat to the public.
That being said, many summary offenses, including retail theft, shoplifting, having a fake ID, and so forth, can cause major issues in a person's life. These concerns are often most acute for college students who are seeking internships or employment, or professionals who made a poor decision, and now can have offenses on their records which severely limit opportunities in life because of what, at first glance, may be a minor issue.
There are numerous crimes that qualify as summary offenses in PA, they include:
- Retail theft
- Public intoxication
- Criminal mischief
- Theft of services
- Failure to report injuries resulting from a firearm
In short, there would rarely be an instance where a defendant should simply pay the fine and be done with a summary offense, regardless of the specific charge. The consequences can be unexpected and signficant. With an experienced attorney early in the process, your attorney can potentially advocate for a resolution that can avoid the consequences that can result from pleading guilty to, or being found guilty of, a summary offense. If, however, you did not have the benefit of this knowledge at an earlier time, remaining arrest and prosecution-free will allow you to seek an expungement of the summary conviction at a later point in time. The unfortunate reality for many people, however, is that the five-year waiting period might as well be a lifetime considering the potential lost opportunities.
Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD)
The Pennsylvania ARD program is designed to help those who made a one-time mistake move forward without suffering the long-lasting consequences of that mistake. Most commonly used in DUI, drug possession, and (lesser) theft cases, for example, those who successfully complete the ARD program are eligible to have their arrest, charges, and any related records expunged from their record.
Importantly, the ARD program is often only available to first-time offenders, or in exceptional circumstances, those who don't have a history of crime within the last decade. Applicants to the program are approved by the District Attorney, and if you've already been through the program once, in addition to ARD no longer being an option, a second offense of the same nature will impact the lenient treatment of the first offense.
Section 17 for Minor Drug Offenses
There is also a program for minor drug offenses that works like the ARD program does for alcohol. The drug program is known as a Section 17, which provides:
- “Upon fulfillment of the terms and conditions of probation, the court shall discharge such person and dismiss the proceedings against him. Discharge and dismissal shall be without adjudication of guilt and shall not constitute a conviction for any purpose whatever…”
As with the ARD program, Section 17 offenses are expungable, but this program is only available to first-time offenders. Further, if violations of probation are committed, then a guilty verdict is automatically entered, and the record then becomes ineligible for expungement in most circumstances.
As outlined by the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania:
“Juvenile delinquency and cases involving summary offenses committed by individuals under 18 years of age must be expunged after notice to the district attorney and the filing of a motion finding any of the following:
- An unsubstantiated complaint, or a delinquency petition filed as a result, is dismissed
- A written allegation filed was not approved for prosecution
- Six months have passed since the individual successfully completed an informal adjustment, and no adjudication proceeding or conviction is pending
- Six months have passed since final discharge from supervision, and no adjudication proceeding or conviction is pending
- The individual is 18 years of age or older and six months have passed since he/she satisfied all terms and conditions of the sentence imposed for conviction of a summary offense, and since that time has not been convicted of a felony, misdemeanor or adjudicated delinquent, and no adjudication proceeding or conviction is pending
- The individual is 18 years of age or older and was convicted of underage drinking when he/she was under 18, and six months have passed since the individual satisfied all terms and conditions of the sentence
- Five years have passed since final discharge from commitment, placement, probation or other disposition, and since that time has not been convicted of a felony, misdemeanor or adjudicated delinquent, and no adjudication proceeding or conviction is pending
- The attorney for the Commonwealth consents and expungement is ordered by a court.”
Some juvenile offenses are not eligible for expungement where the prosecutors are able to show just cause, or where:
- “Individuals who were 14 years of age or older at the time of an offense which, if committed by an adult, would be classified as rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse or aggravated indecent assault, or the attempt, solicitation or conspiracy to commit these offenses, and was adjudicated delinquent.”
Individuals Over 70
Those who are over the age of 70 may petition to the appropriate Court of Common Pleas for expungement so long as they have not committed any crime within the last ten years.
Hiring an Experienced PA Attorney for Multiple Expungements
Even though you can access your records and the necessary documents online, it's ill-advised to go through the expungement process without the guidance of an experienced attorney. This is especially true if you have multiple records you wish to expunge. Not only will a lawyer be able to help you move through the steps in an efficient manner that helps you avoid costly mistakes, but your attorney will also help you troubleshoot options when your criminal history isn't eligible for expungement in PA.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled state-wide experience expunging criminal records in Pennsylvania. Attorney Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm work tirelessly for their clients, so they're able to build better futures for themselves and their families. If you want to expunge your record in PA, don't hesitate, call 888-535-3686 today.